Alicia Shaffer is the most successful seller on Etsy.
The mom of three started selling boho-inspired hats and scarves through her online shop, Three Bird Nest, in November 2011.
Shaffer wanted to bring in some extra money after the clothing store she and her husband managed in the San Francisco Bay shut down in the recession.
"I would have been thrilled to make $100 to $200 a month to pay for my daughter's dance lessons," Shaffer told Business Insider. "I was really just trying to make a couple sales a week because I had lost confidence in my ability to start a business."
Weeks after setting up a store on the handmade marketplace, Shaffer was faced with getting 90 orders to customers before Christmas.
"I was crying and didn't know how I would get it done," Shaffer said. "That was the moment I decided to stop treating it like a hobby and start treating it like a business."
Shaffer began researching how she could maximize her sales on Etsy.
First, she began focusing on photography.
"When someone searches for a product on Etsy, I want mine to be the one they click on," she said. "That means having the best photos."
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Shaffer installed apps on her phone to increase the quality of the pictures and focused on flattering lighting.
She also started writing more detailed titles for the products.
"There's so much competition that you have to be methodical and aggressive to succeed," Shaffer said.
She hired an assistant to help manage her 20-hour workdays. Shaffer has since expanded her staff to 15 people who help make the products and ship out orders.
Shaffer has also started buying some items wholesale from overseas.
Her hard work has paid off: She says she's sold between $80,000 and $90,000 worth of merchandise for the past several months.
Between Etsy and her website, she's earning about $65,000 a month.
Shaffer hopes to use her newfound success to spend more time with her husband and children.
Learning from her past helped Shaffer build a successful business.
"I've tasted loss and felt what it does to you personally," she said. "Second chances are so much more appreciated."
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